Let’s allow the people of Clearfield and Lawrence Township choose their future.
Change can be frightening. We like things to stay the same … it is what we know and understand. But it’s also true that sometimes change is a necessity.
And giving the people the option to choose their future is always a good thing; it’s important to let people decide their future together.
For more than a year now, a committee of residents and employees in Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township has been discussing the option of consolidating the two municipalities into one.
Now the question, after all the discussions, meetings, sub-committee meetings and so on, is whether the people of the two municipalities will get to choose for themselves via a ballot referendum in the May election.
Clearfield Borough Council voted Jan. 19 to put the matter on the ballot. The Lawrence Township Supervisors will take that vote Feb. 7.
Here is some information to come from those committee meetings.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development has identified both communities as at-risk communities for Act 47, where the state will step in and take control of a financially distressed community.
DCED gave the communities the option of exploring consolidation through an Early Intervention Program grant of $100,000, part of which was used to hire the Pennsylvania Economy League to help work through the process.
PEL met regularly with the committee during public meetings. Some of those meetings were held in the afternoon, some were held in the evening, all were open to the public.
Two large community meetings were also held at the Clearfield Area Junior-Senior High School to discuss first the plan and second what the committee’s findings were.
PEL did a study of the current financial and population situations of both municipalities:
- Both have similar population bases; 7,681 for Lawrence Township and 6,169 for Clearfield Borough
- Both are facing either a decline or stagnation in the prime wage-earning group, ages 18-64 and household values and income are significantly lower than the state averages.
- Both have similar budget costs: municipal works is 34 percent of the borough’s budget and 32 percent of the township’s budget; police protection is 41 percent of the borough’s budget at $955,323 per year and 39 percent of the township’s budget at $1.1 million per year.
- PEL has calculated that both the borough and township will exhaust budget surpluses by 2020 if everything remains the same. Lawrence Township has also been relying on funds from Act 13 to bolster the budget, especially in regards to police; however, Act 13 funds have been decreasing.
- Lawrence Township’s pension costs have risen by 145 percent in the past five years, and health care costs continue to rise for both.
- Clearfield Borough’s tax rate is currently 25 mills. The limit for a borough is 30 mills. Lawrence Township’s tax rate is 18 mills. The limit for a second-class township is 14 mills, and they can petition the court for an additional 5 mill limit, which Lawrence Township has done. Currently, 16 mills is taxed on real estate and an additional 2 mills of special taxation for fire protection, which they can levy without court approval, is also levied.
Those are some of the statistics. But let’s look now at the option facing the township supervisors and the voters at large.
As Americans, we have a unique system of government. We choose a minority of representatives to make most of our governing decisions for us, from the federal government all the way down to our borough and township representatives.
In theory, they are to listen to their constituents, those who elected them, and make decisions in the best interest of the community. Occasionally, however, some decisions are so big that it should and must go to the people directly affected.
That is the issue being considered now, whether the voters in Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township should be the ones to decide if the two municipalities should consolidate and become one municipality under home rule.
A plan to make that happen has been put together. It is not perfect. Anyone putting together a new organization of any kind will tell you that the plan and the final result often differ from each other.
The charter is a guideline. Many things would have to be worked out by the newly-elected council, including tax rates, ordinances and so on. It will be difficult at first.
There are many opinions being expressed as well, and many people calling their representatives with their thoughts. However, it should not be up to the governing bodies to make the final decision. That should be left to the voters.
The statistics noted above are only a small part of the whole picture. There is the question of how the employees will be organized. The police departments will have to come together, as will the street crews.
The fire companies will be left pretty much alone, though there will be some work to organize communication between the fire companies and the municipal government.
There are many rumors floating around the community in addition to the facts. It is up to the voters to become as educated as possible on the issue.
Full reports are available from the township and borough offices, from PEL, from committee members. Committee members have also encouraged the public to contact them and express concerns and ask questions and even have them attend community meetings to discuss the matter.
Let’s allow the people of Clearfield and Lawrence Township choose their future. As one resident said to me recently, “It is time to pick an option and choose your future, and hope that your future reflects your neighbor’s future, because we’re in this together.”